“Thank you for doing this.”
Five simple words that meant a lot. I heard them during a series of interviews I did for a consulting engagement for a company that was looking to introduce several new marketing technology platforms. It’s always nice to be thanked for your work, but what made this particular occasion memorable was what came next.
“When the company implemented the current system several years ago they never talked to us. You are the first to ask us what we need.”
Technology for Technology's Sake Rarely Works
Unfortunately, over the years I’ve heard similar stories too often. When there is technology chaos, an abundance of underutilized and siloed solutions, it is usually the result of a technology-first approach to trying to solve a specific issue. Technology for technology’s sake rarely works. We tend to end up with Band-aid solutions, using technology to plaster over the visible issue without understanding the underlying ailment. Replacing one piece of technology with another without understanding the real issues is like ripping off one Band-aid and applying a fresh one. It doesn’t really change anything.
We are in a time of rapid technology change in the world of content management, be it in marketing, customer experience, documentation or any other point on the digital supply chain. The move to cloud, the remote workforce, collaboration tools, analytics tools, machine learning, the developing metaverse. There’s a lot of new technology arriving that we need to be thinking about. How will they work with the tools we have in place? How will those changes impact our customers, our business and perhaps the one that is most overlooked, our employees?
Most of us love technology, of course: We have our smart phones, smart TVs, laptops, tablets, wireless this and wireless that. Technology is such an everyday part of our lives that we tend not to think about it too much until something doesn’t work the way we want it to. While such devotion to technology can lead to occasional frustrations at home, it can have serious impacts in a business environment.
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A Different Approach: Technology Last
We need to take a different approach when it comes to business-critical technology, such as the marketing technology stack. We need to step back and first admit that we tend to start by jumping straight towards what we believe is the solution to most problems — software. Over the years we’ve come to believe that software solves most problems, when the truth is that software implemented just for the sake of the software can cause as many problems as it helps us solve, especially if you choose the wrong tool.
Avoiding the tool trap is easy. The first step is to admit that we are addicted to software, and that addiction, like many addictions, can cause you to make decisions that have negative consequences. Don’t allow yourself to start talking about software solutions until you understand your real challenges. What problems are you trying to solve? Why are they problems? What do those problems cost your organization? And what are you willing to do to make those problems go away? Talk to the people who can help develop the answers to those questions.
Related Article: Why Is Marketing Technology Often Discarded and Replaced?
Business Needs Trump Engineering, IT
Business need should come before engineering and IT needs. First, define the business problem and then consider how to apply engineering and IT solutions to solve those problems. When looking at the business needs you also need to look at what you are doing with your existing tools and technology. Often you will find that you are doing things a particular way because of existing technology constraints.
This is where talking to people helps. Find out what people need to do their jobs, what their goals are, and what their challenges are. Understand their objectives and how those fit into the overall business strategy, then you can think about the technology.
I like to summarize this approach as People, Culture, Process, and Solutions first — Technology last.
When you do get to thinking about technology, ensure that you also have an overall strategy for those solutions, too. Take a holistic view of your systems architecture, understand how the various software solutions interact, understand how data flows between them, and what the user experience across the full digital supply chain will be like. Stop thinking about individual software solutions and think about the journey you need to take as a business.
Once we can admit our addiction and move on from it, we can move from thinking along the lines of “We need to install WizGadget 3.0” to “We need to decrease the time it takes to get our information into the hands of our customers.”
And if we can do that, we may hear a few more “thank you's” along the way.
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